1# Address no more than one point in each paragraph
It is advantageous in a number of ways to address just one distinct point or idea, in each paragraph of your essay.
Doing so orders the content, making it more understandable to the reader.
Breaking down an essay into a logical sequence of concise paragraphs also make the writing task less daunting.
At the same time if the point you wish to make requires a lot text, don’t be afraid of breaking it into separate paragraphs also.
2# Keep paragraphs short
It’s usually best to keep paragraphs short. There is no clear cut off point, but a general guide is around 6 to 7 sentences.
Short paragraphs allow the reader to pause and digest the material more readily than lengthy paragraphs.
If writing for the web, it is advisable to keep paragraphs even shorter, depending upon your audience. A paragraph can be as short as one sentence.
3# The key sentence of a paragraph
A paragraph will typically contain a key sentence. A key sentence introduces the reader to content contained within the paragraph. For this reason, it is usually best for it to be placed at the beginning of the paragraph.
Consider this short paragraph concerning official crime statistics,
‘The validity of official statistics is contested however. How crime is defined, detected and recorded has led many criminologists to argue that they are unsound, and do not represent the true extent of crime in the United Kingdom.’
The key sentence of this paragraph is, ‘The validity of official statistics is contested however.’
It prepares the reader to expect the rest of the paragraph to focus upon how and why some doubt the accuracy of official statistics of crime.
5# The supporting sentences of a paragraph
In a well written essay the key sentence of each paragraph will usually be accompanied by at least one supporting sentence. These supporting sentences should clearly elaborate upon and/or confirm the statement contained within your key sentence.
Consider the second sentence contained in the paragraph concerning official crime statistics:
‘How crime is defined, detected and recorded has led many criminologists to argue that they are unsound, and do not represent the true extent of crime in the United Kingdom.’
This second sentence clearly relates to and corroborates the subject matter and argument contained within the preceding key sentence.
6# The introduction
The introduction of an essay will usually fit in just one paragraph.
It’s function is to indicate the main thrust of the answer to be given and the main subjects covered. It should not start to answer the question at any length and therefore should require just one paragraph.
If your introduction is over say eight sentences in an essay of less than 2500 words you might consider reducing the length.
7# The conclusion
Again the conclusion to an essay will as a rule occupy only one paragraph. For reasons similar to those for your introduction.
Namely, it’s function is to briefly restate the answer given and the subjects covered in the main section of your essay.
8# When to indent a paragraph
The use of indentation is frequently optional in educational establishments within the United Kingdom. A simple line space is used to denote another paragraph.
When indentation is used, one common style involves indenting all paragraphs apart from the first one. Based upon the fact that as indentation has primarily functioned to denote separated paragraphs, the first paragraph in this approach does not require it.
The American method involves indenting all paragraphs.
The ideas presented here are not new, but the writing is. Please consider helping to improve the quality of this article and give other readers the benefits of your wisdom by leaving a comment.
Inspiring and helpful comments may be incorporated into future articles.
It has been a while since I have taken a firm stance on some bit of typographic minutia that most normal people don’t care about, so today, I’m writing about whether you should indent the first line of the first paragraph when laying out narrative text. Get ready for a wild ride, similar to previous posts on drop caps, double spacing after a period, and the serial comma. (For those of you who are really into this sort of thing, I have created a category called “Typographic Minutiae” in our sidebar. Tell your friends!)
Not long ago, I was in a meeting with a freelance client whom I had not worked with before. I was nodding at comments and suggestions while going over the first draft of a newsletter: “Take all of the text from this Russian novel and put it on page 3.” Nod nod nod. “And in all the leftover space make this 50-pixel-wide photo huge.” Nod nod nod. “And use 17 different styles for these headlines.” Nod nod nod. “And indent the first line of the first paragraph in these blocks of text.” Screeching record-scratch sound.
To give you a visual of what I’m talking about, see the examples above. (Thanks to Bleacher Report for the text.) I have always set the first paragraph of a block of text, either at the very beginning of a passage or after a subhead, flush left, including the first line, as with the example on the left.
I remember a graduate school professor explaining it like this: You indent to indicate a new paragraph. There’s no reason to indent the first paragraph because it’s obvious that it’s a new paragraph since it’s the first one. Now go design a ball that is really a mask that will save the world. (Grad school was weird.)
Robert Bringhurst, author of The Elements of Typographic Style, which many designers consider the Bible of typography, says it like this:
The function of a paragraph indent is to mark a pause, setting the paragraph apart from what precedes it. If a paragraph is preceded by a title or subhead, the indent is superfluous and can therefore be omitted.
If Robert Bringhurst is not an authoritative enough source for you, Wikipedia says this: “Professionally printed material typically does not indent the first paragraph, but indents those that follow.”
As with all typographic styles, if you follow a specific style guide, you should defer to it. (And whatever style you follow, be sure to follow it consistently rather than mixing and matching.) There are some style guides that say you should indent the first line of all paragraphs, including the first one. For instance, most newspapers follow the Associated Press style guide, which calls for indenting the first line of all paragraphs. That said, I have always hated AP style because 98 percent of its guidelines are intended more for saving money on ink than actual clarity of language. (Most newspapers also fully justify (on the right and the left) narrow columns of text, which looks ridiculous, so if that’s your model for good design, best of luck to you.)
Ultimately, it’s not incorrect to indent the first line of the first paragraph of narrative text. People aren’t going to point and laugh if you do it. But in my estimation, left justifying the entire first paragraph is one of those subtle nuances that sets professional design apart from amateur design.